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A Thousand Words Photography Project: Expanding the World of Individuals with DIsabilities

Come Roll With Me welcomes back guest blogger, Pam Gross.  In this post, Pam discusses The Thousand Words Photography Project. 

 Jonathan showing off his skills!

Have you ever heard of A Thousand Words Photography Project?  I absolutely LOVE this project.  I first heard about it a few years ago from a wonderful non-profit in our community called ConnectAbility. ConnectAbility is not the first or only organization to develop A Thousand Words Photography Project.  There are quite a few of these projects across the nation.

I would explain the project to you but I think that ConnectAbility says it best:  “Everyone knows that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – but what if a picture spoke your only words?  The goal of A Thousand Words Photography Project is to give a voice to people with disabilities through the visual art of photography.  People with disabilities, who comprise nearly 20% of the general population, are marginalized in society and especially in the area of art.  Each person has a story to tell, a gift to share and a perspective to be considered.  A Thousand Words Photography Project provides those opportunities while enriching the lives of all who come into contact with the art they create. Teams consist of people with and without disabilities who collaborate and produce photographic works that relate to a specific theme.  The photographs are available to the public through art shows and ultimately are sold at a fundraising auction to support future project programming.” – ConnectAbility, Inc

Sounds pretty cool, right?  So imagine my excitement when I was asked if our son, Jonathan, would be interested in participating in A Thousand Words Photography Project.  Jonathan has Down syndrome and verbal apraxia which makes it very difficult for him to express himself.  I had not really considered photography as a creative means of self expression for him until I got that call.  I thought it could be a wonderful experience for him but I had no idea if he had an interest in photography.

To test the waters, we gave Jonathan a camera.  He took over 300 pictures in about 2 hours.  He took pictures of the towel rack in the bathroom and even closed the bedroom door and turned off the light and took pictures of the dark.  If it wasn’t for the creation of digital cameras we would be broke trying to keep him in film.

Obviously, Jonathan had discovered a love of photography.  And we discovered a window into the world of Jonathan.  It was interesting to see the content and the perspective of some of his photos.  It was surprising to see how he found objects of beauty or points of interest where no one else had seen them.  It was rewarding to see how this new hobby helped to expand Jonathan’s world by allowing him an avenue to express himself.


Think about that for a moment. An avenue to express himself.  The vast majority of people have the ability to communicate their thoughts, needs, and innermost desires.  But there are quite a few folks in our communities who are unable to fully express themselves. Jonathan is just one of them. I was perfectly fine when we found out at his birth that he has Down syndrome.  But I cried for 2 days when we received the diagnosis of his verbal apraxia because I knew that Jonathan’s world was now made that much smaller.  I tell you this not for your pity, but for your understanding.  I want you to understand how impacting it is for us to see our child’s world expand because he now has another way to show his point of view.  It’s pretty huge.

Jonathan’s 2017 entry photo

Jonathan’s world will continue to grow as a result of the A Thousand Words Photography Project.  We’ve already received a few requests for prints of some of his photos and are now considering how Jonathan may be able to take his new found hobby and develop it into a future career.  We are excited for him to start on a path to be a happy and productive adult with a job that he loves.

Jonathan’s 2017 entry photo

We are incredibly grateful to ConnectAbility, and everyone involved in the A Thousand Words Photography Projectfor providing us with the wonderful opportunity to not only participate in the project but also for providing us with a career path for our son.  For showing us that regardless of a person’s disability, the world is still your oyster.  We are so appreciative of Jonathan’s original mentor with this project.  For being so kind and full of patience but more importantly, for consistently presuming competence.  Her confidence in our child’s ability has helped to shape his future.

        Smile worth more than 1000 words

Quite possibly the best part of this project is to know that everyone benefits from participating in the project.  Not only do the people with disabilities enjoy the opportunity, but so do their mentors as they bond over a shared experience.  “I was asked to teach others how to use a camera and appreciate the wonders of the photographic image.  I figured I could do this and looked forward to sharing the craft I have learned over many years.  Watching these 61 year old twins use a camera for the first time in their lives was amazing and I was reminded of the wonder I felt when I made my very first photograph.  Their unbridled excitement at seeing an image they took humbled me.  I take so much for granted.  I thought I was teaching them the magic of photography, when in reality I had forgotten the magic of photography until they came along.”  – Paul Dunlap, Assoc. Professor of Visual Arts, University of North Georgia

About Guest Blogger – Pam Gross

My journey into the special needs community began in Junior High when I regularly babysat a little girl with Cerebral Palsy. I was one of the very few babysitters who was not intimidated by her heavy braces, crutches, and impaired speech.  In High School I volunteered at a summer camp for kids with special needs with my best friend, Beth (who just happens to be Hunter’s great aunt).  Over 20 years later, I entered the world of special needs full time when I gave birth to my son who has Down syndrome.  Jonathan is a genuine blessing and I am so grateful for him opening up my world and for teaching me what is truly important in life. He is a pure soul and I aspire daily to be more like him – to forgive easily, to give generously, and to love freely.


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